A different look at Disney...

Amazon Honor System Click Here to PayLearn More

Will It Go Round in Circles (continued)

After the blowdown, a crewman takes a sample of water from the boiler, and performs a "TDS" test (standing for Total Dissolved Solids an indication of the water's mineral content), which will then be used to determine how much of each anti-foaming and anti-corrosion chemical will be added to the locomotive that day. These chemicals phosphates and sulfates are apportioned out in tin cans that are carried in the storage compartment on each tender, and are added by the crews when out on the line throughout the day. The TDS number is written on the blackboard visible at the Frontierland Station freight house to keep the crews appraised so the crews can appropriately blowdown the engines.

Disneyland Railroad
Here in 1996, the Fred Gurley is blown down.

Blowing down the boiler several times a day is a vital procedure in the safe operation of a steam locomotive, and this is the first of many the crews will perform during the course of a day. There can be up to 12 pounds of dissolved sediments to every 500 gallons of water, not to mention the residue from the several pounds of the anti-foaming and anti-corrosion chemicals that are added to the water several times a day. This sediment can build up inside the boiler, at the lowest point of the firebox, called the mud ring.

Sediment, called "mud" and other unprintable expletives by the railroad men, can build up to such a point that water would no longer make contact with the sidesheet of the firebox. No matter how hot the fire gets, the water on the other side of the firebox sheets will absorb the heat. The sheets themselves merely transfer this heat, and remain relatively cool. If the mud is allowed to build up, water will lose contact with the sheet, and the side sheet may begin to soften or melt, possibly leading to a boiler explosion. Opening the blowdown allows this sediment to be jettisoned from the boiler, in dramatic fashion.


When the locomotives are out on the line, blowdowns take place at Frontierland Station. The large stone "storm drain" with the arched opening covered by wire bars and screening next to the water tower known by railroaders as a "steam funnel" guides the blowdown blast underground, where it emerges up from behind the Frontierland Station freight house. When blowing down here, the steam can often be seen rising up behind the freight house.

The blowdown is opened for two or three six-second intervals, and then shut off for three-second periods in between. This allows the sediment to be churned up slightly, instead of just allowing it to sit at the bottom of the mud ring. After 15 seconds or so, the blowdown is completed, and a puddle of hot milky-white water is left on the ground as evidence. Three short blasts of the whistle indicate that the locomotive is about to move backwards.

Slowly, the engine creeps in reverse towards the roundhouse. One shop worker standing nearby yells, in a voice of mock concern, to the engineer backing the engine, "Hey, Jack, your wheels are turnin'!" Jack, concerned at first, looks down to check the wheels before the joke hits. He flashes back the "Yeah, you got me" grin, and continues to move slowly in reverse.

Disneyland Railroad
The C.K. Holliday, wearing her old paint job, prepares for the day,
while the Ernest S. March is undergoing rehab to the right.

Back inside the roundhouse, hand signals from crewmen or conductors on the ground guide the locomotive toward the open coupler of the first passenger car. Old railroad hands know that "three miles per hour is a coupling, four miles per hour is a collision," so the engineer must have a steady hand at the throttle. The couplers are opened from the underside by hidden pins, a somewhat dangerous operation, since to activate the uncoupling pins; crewmen must step between the cars of the train. There are no uncoupling levers that can be activated from beside the cars, as there are on full size trains, which prevents any "unruly" guests from cutting the train in two.  

Once the locomotive and cars are coupled together, a crewman connects the various air brake hoses, safety chains and electrical connections. The engines, in keeping with their period look, sport no steam operated electrical generators. Instead, electricity is generated from an alternator attached to the first wheelset of the first passenger car. Depending on the type of alternator used, either a chain or a rubber belt is run off the axle to turn the alternator. Electricity is stored in single 12-volt batteries that are housed in the small toolbox at the back of each tender.

Disneyland Railroad
Steam and water spewing from her open cylinder cocks, the C.K. Holliday
rolls her train toward the mainline to begin her workday.

After these various connections are made, the train is ready to go into active service. A shop worker spreads sand from a small container onto the railheads directly in front of the locomotive, to aid in traction as the engine pulls out with the heavy train. A crewman will set the switches to guide the train onto the main track. With a full engine crew now aboard, the train slowly pulls out onto the main line, and out of sight.

The still morning air is punctuated now and then with the distant sound of the locomotive's steam whistle. She won't be back this way until the end of her 15-hour shift.

Disneyland Railroad
Roundhouse lead Craig Ludwick watches as the Fred Gurley steams towards the main line.

During the day, roundhouse crewmembers generally perform routine maintenance on one of the locomotives. Over the course of a month or so, all five locomotives will be serviced in this way, often with one locomotive being completely serviced each week. In this manner, each locomotive is serviced about once a month. The following describes a typical maintenance procedure:

A train is brought in for the evening, say, on a Sunday, the engine is allowed to cool off all day Monday. On Tuesday, crewmen remove all of the boiler fittings, and give the boiler a thorough internal washing to remove scale and sediment. They will remove the header, check and re-grind all valves as necessary, and inspect the check valves as well (the check valves allow water to be injected into the boiler, but not to come back out under the boiler's pressure). Roundhouse workers inspect and calibrate the air pressure and steam gauges. They will also check the whistle valve, and re-lap it if needed. Or course, crewmembers will also test the pressure relief safety valves.

Disneyland Railroad
With her smokebox front removed, the Ernest S. Marsh undergoes heavy repairs in
the roundhouse. The two large curving pipes seen inside carry steam from the boiler
to the cylinders. The array of holes near the rear of the smokebox are the flues
that carry the exhaust gasses from the fire. Photo courtesy Preston Nirattisai.

Beneath the train, personnel will give the running gear a complete inspection, and adjust the shoes and wedges which allow the drive wheels to move up and down against the locomotive's springs as necessary. The brake system is examined closely, and the drawbar connection between the engine and tender is scrutinized. Shop personnel will also completely inspect the tender, inside and out. If all goes as planned, and no major maintenance headaches are discovered, the locomotive will be reassembled, and back on the line by the following Saturday.

When the time comes to bed down the trains for the evening, the conductor receives a radio call from the roundhouse to make a final run. The train's conductor instructs all passengers that the final round-trip will be made, and that all passengers will have to disembark at Main Street Station. When all passengers are off, the train leaves the station as a "deadhead," a railroad term denoting a non-revenue trip. The train does not stop at Frontierland or Toontown, and it seems unusual to see the empty train pass through these stations at a gallop, without so much as slowing down.

Behind Tomorrowland, the train is stopped, and the rear conductor throws and "keys" the switch on the main line, locking it into position. After receiving a signal from the rear conductor that the switch is thrown, the engineer blows three toots on the whistle, and the train gingerly backs off the mainline. The train wends its way through the mainline switch, after roundhouse personnel have thrown the switch for the appropriate roundhouse track. The green light over the stall doorway is lighted, and the train slowly backs up into the appropriate roundhouse stall. The engineer opens the cylinder cocks, allowing moisture to escape, while the fireman injects water into the boiler for the last time that evening, bringing the level in the water glass up to three nuts. The train continues slowly in reverse until it reaches the back of its stall, and comes to rest.

Disneyland Railroad
Another day at Disneyland begins with when the first train leaves the roundhouse.
Photo courtesy Preston Nirattisai.

Up front, between the tender and the first car, shop personnel sever the electrical, air and safety chain connections, and uncouple the engine from the train. The engine and tender move forward four or five feet, so that the smokestack is positioned underneath the large exhaust vent in the ceiling, which itself resembles a large, upturned funnel. The fireman opens all of the condensate lines for the air compressor, and refills the mechanical lubricator near the crosshead with oil.

In the cab, the engineer turns off the main header valve, extinguishes the fire, and cleans and refills the hydrostatic lubricator. Then he positions the Johnson bar to the vertical, neutral position, and opens the cylinder cocks, allowing any wayward steam passing into the cylinders to be vented instead of being allowed to build up enough pressure in the cylinder to move the locomotive, and cause a runaway engine. Underneath the locomotive, in the servicing pit between the wheels, crewmembers refill the driver axle cellars (reservoirs) with 90-weight oil, and make a general inspection of the running gear.

Finally, the engines are given a good polishing, the engineers go home, and the trains of the Disneyland Railroad are tucked in for a well-deserved night's rest.

This is the world of the Disneyland roundhouse. It's a remarkable facility that manages to harken back to an earlier era in Industrial America; an age when man and machine relied on, cared for and depended on each other in a close relationship that seems lacking in today's modern, often computer-controlled machinery. What Don Ball wrote in 1972 about his experiences with the great roundhouses of the steam era is still relevant in the Disneyland roundhouse today:

The men moving about knew their work; it was their life! Each knew the innermost personality of these great engines, and repairs were made without the help of textbooks or intricate machines. A good machinist could make or rebuild a necessary part with the tools readily available in the roundhouse. In some cases an "ailment" could be remedied merely by a few strategic taps with a hammer!

Every visitor who rides the Disneyland trains; every passenger who appreciates their sparkling appearance and reliable operation, every Disney fan and every rail fan, owes a debt of gratitude to the dedicated team of cast members who wouldn't trade their work in the Disneyland Roundhouse for anything in the world.

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More

Steve DeGaetano is author of Welcome Aboard the Disneyland Railroad! Portions of this article were excerpted from that book. Steve's latest book, the history of Disneyland's newest locomotive, the Ward Kimball, is now starting to ship. You can read more about From Plantation to Theme Park, the Story of Disneyland Railroad Locomotive No. 5, the Ward Kimball, and place an order for it, by using this link.

Steve DeGaetano may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2007 Steve DeGaetano

Let's Discuss!

Click on this link to discuss this article on MiceChat!

    Web www.MiceAge.com